Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Light Postings Ahead...

Busy days ahead, folks, so the blog's gonna be a little sparse.

Writing Tip Wednesdays will resume on September 7th.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Research Craziness

Certain genres of fiction need research.

Science fiction. Police procedurals. Fantasy. Technothriller. Historical.

If you don't take the time to do the research, your readers will be pissed. And they'll let you know about it, mainly by never buying your books and telling their friends not to buy your books because you don't know what you're talking about.

Yeah, even fantasy novels can get research wrong. Or get none at all. Horses, for instance, aren't four-legged cars that eat grass and go nonstop for hours on end.

No.

But some fantasy writers will forget that.

I'm all for research. Research is good.

Do the research. Know your shit.

But.

(And here's the big "But".)

Don't get lost in the research.

How do you get lost?

When you spend more time researching than writing your story.

You're writing a story.

Not a dissertation.

Story.

First and foremost.

Figure out what you need to know.

Then friggin' get back to writing your story.

Otherwise, you're wasting time.


Monday, August 15, 2011

The Motivation Whine

"How do I get motivated to write?"

Another often-asked question I see in writing forums.

And this one bugs the crap out of me.

If you're serious about writing, why do you need to ask this question?

What do I mean by serious?

Serious = wanting to do this professionally.

As in making money from writing, getting your stories into magazines and your novels into stores, and doing it full-time. Or as close to full-time as you can get.

If that's the case, then not writing means you won't get paid means you can't pay bills means you can't buy food.

So you write.

Come hell or high water.

You sit your ass down and you write.

But if this isn't you, if this isn't what you want to do, if you're just in it for the art, then I have to ask: Why are you worried about being motivated?

Don't you just "write when you feel inspired"?

If that's the case, you just answered your question about motivation.

You write when you're inspired.

So don't complain about motivation.

And as I've said before: Writers write.

/rant

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Conflict, Conflict, Conflict!

You gotta have it in your story. It's crucial. Always always keep this in mind:
YOUR STORY WILL NOT WORK WITHOUT CONFLICT.
Remember your structure: at the beginning of your story, your main character's life gets thrashed. Turned upside down. Ass over teakettle. Now he's got a big problem in his hands. And he's gotta take care of it or there'll be hell to pay. There's your conflict. You need it because conflict is your story's primary driving force. It's the thing that's getting in your MC's path and keeping him from getting to his goal. That goal is the solution to the problem. So your MC has to find a way over, under, around, or through that conflict. And that makes for good story. And that's what you want: Good story. Now pay attention to this next tidbit. Conflict doesn't have to be explosions, running gun battles with ninjas, or laser sword duels with alien invaders. Sure, it's fun. But not always necessary. See, conflict can take one of three forms:
  • Man vs. Nature/Society
  • Man vs. Man
  • Man vs. Self
Use it. Use it, use it, use it. For the love of all that's holy, use it!! Use all three forms if you want to. But use it. Or you won't have a story. You'll have crap.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"Should I Be A Writer?"

I saw this question on one of the forums I lurk at.

Which brought to mind a recent email newsletter item I received from SF/F writer Holly Lisle.

The email was titled "If you CAN be talked out of it, quit."

There's a story Lawrence Block relates in Telling Lies for Fun and Profit:
There's an old story about a young man who cornered a world-famous violinist and begged to be allowed to play for him. If the master offered him encouragement, he would devote is life to music. But if his talent was not equal to his calling, he wanted to know ahead of time so he could avoid wasting his life. He played, and the great violinist shook his head. "You lack the fire," he said.

Decades later the two met again, and the would-be violinist, now a prosperous businessman, recalled their previous meeting. "You changed my entire life," he explained. "It was a bitter disappointment, giving up music, but I forced myself to accept your judgment. Thus, instead of becoming a fourth-rate musician, I've had a good life in the world of commerce. But tell me, how could you tell so readily that I lacked the fire?"

"Oh. I hardly listened when you played," the old master said. "That's what I tell everyone who plays for me--that they lack the fire."

"But that's unforgivable!" the businessman cried. "How could you do that? You altered the entire course of my life. Perhaps I could have been another Kreisler, another Heifetz--"

The old man shook his head again. "You don't understand," he said. "If you had had the fire, you would have paid no attention to me."
So here's my take on the question above: If you have to ask, you're better off doing something else.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Plotting Your Story

Now let's talk about plotting and outlines.

Before your freak out, panic, and get overwhelmed, just remember what we talked about last time:
STRUCTURE IS YOUR FRIEND.

So...how do you plot your story?

Easy.

Here's what you do.

Get a blank sheet of paper or open up a new document in your word processor.

Then, answer these questions about your story:
  • Who is the story about (this is your main character)?

  • What's the problem this person is facing? What event turns my main character's world upside down and moves him to resolve the situation?

  • What solution does my main character decide on to resolve the situation?
Now, figure out the following:
  • As your main character moves toward the solution, what obstacles, each "bigger" than the one before, get in his way to try and knock him down and what does he do to get past them?

  • When your main character seems to be almost within reach of the solution, some event occurs than knocks them almost all the way back to the beginning of their struggles, and all hope seems lost. What's this event?

  • Right after that blackest event, another event takes place that throws the main character toward the solution. What's that event? (Doesn't have to happen right after the black event. Maybe a short time later. But don't let too much time pass.)

  • How does the main character resolve the problem? Basically, how does the story end?
Think of this as a loose blueprint. You don't need to know every single tiny detail when you start.

Just know the main points.

When you get down to writing, you'll be able to fill in the details using what you know of your story world, your characters, and the situation.

For now, just a quick sketch of story.

Next time, we'll look at a key ingredient you're gonna need.